Heartless or Heroic? How Hair Loss Is Viewed In Hollywood




It’s a familiar movie scene: The shadowy master villain who has been causing dire events to befall the handsome hero is finally seen full face. There he is, sporting an evil grin, his eyes narrowed to slits, his eyebrows inclining wickedly toward center – and his pate gleaming, devoid of the slightest hint of hair.

This is a not-so-familiar movie scene: The suave, debonair hero, whom we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, is in bed with what we quickly realize is a comely lass. The camera is being coy, showing us the couple’s playful sensual relationship in shadow. After a moment, some light reveals the busy couple and the camera travels across the landscapes of their bodies, but it is only when their tryst is interrupted by an emergency call on the hero’s special phone that we are afforded a glimpse of his face. As he takes his call, the beauty in his bed continues to caress and kiss what we learn is a shining bald head.

It’s hard to think of a picture where that second scenario is true. Although there have definitely been advances in how men with hair loss are portrayed on both the big and the small screen, heroes still tend to come from the “hirsute” club, leaving bald men more likely candidates for the villain.

There are exceptions, of course. Bruce Willis has certainly let his dome dominate in many of his big-screen roles and has still romanced plenty of ladies and toted the big guns with the best of them. On the small screen, Michael Chiklis has been lauded for his work in “The Shield,” giving him the opportunity to present a complex and very human bald character who weighs in as a hero.

“Although there have definitely been advances in how men with hair loss are portrayed on both the big and the small screen, heroes still tend to come from the ‘hirsute’ club, leaving bald men more likely candidates for the villain.”

Hair loss, Hollywood and “romantic lead” actors

But there’s still hesitancy on Hollywood’s part to let the “follicle challenged” play the traditional leading man roles. As one casting director put it, “Sure, things are a hell of a lot better. But there’s not one director in a hundred that doesn’t put up a fight if you suggest a bald guy for a romantic lead. The heavy? Yeah, bald can always be a plus for getting across evil. But it’s a stretch for your pretty boy parts.”

Another casting director had a slightly different take. “Men without all their hair have a harder time, but by and large it’s a little easier for an actor who has the totally shaved look than for one who’s bald on top but has hair on the sides.”

Certainly, the list of “villainous” bald characters is easy to compile. A short sample would include:

  • Marlon Brando’s memorably psychotic Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”
  • Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in “Superman” and Kevin Spacey’s take on the same character in “Superman Returns” (A moment to savor: Hackman, after having appeared with hair, finally pulling off his wig to reveal his bald dome.)
  • Kevin Spacey (again) as the ultimate serial killer in “SeVen”
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as the cold-hearted Mr. Freeze in “Batman and Robin”
  • Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell as the Kingpin and Bullseye, a chrome-domed deadly duo, in “Daredevil”
  • Andy Serkis as the slithering strange Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings”
  • Ralph Fiennes as Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, whose noseless face makes him seriously disturbing
  • Jeff Bridges, whose Obadiah Stone in “Iron Man” is a delight
  • And, of course, the appropriately-named Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers films

Hollywood and hair loss heroes

The list of heroes is a little harder to come by but is surprisingly longer than you might think. Start with Yul Brynner, whose performance in “The King and I” made it possible for America to accept a bald man as a genuine movie star. Then add:

  • Patrick Stewart, whose Captain Pickard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” made a new generation of women swoon over a bald pate. (Stewart’s Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies is also deserving of special mention.)
  • Gavin MacLeod as the Captain of the “Love Boat,” a groundbreaker in its own way
  • Telly Savalas as Kojak, the only person alive who could maintain his manliness while obsessing on lollipops
  • Laurence Fishburne’s very cool Morpheus in the Matrix movies
  • Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone in “The Untouchables,” a strong, incorruptible force in a tough world
  • Vin Diesel, as tough and sexy as any James Bond, in “XXX”
  • Sean Patrick Flannery as a strange, mysterious but ultimately good bald teen in “Powder”
  • John Malkovich playing his strange but wonderful self in “Being John Malkovich”

And as mentioned earlier, Bruce Willis and Michael Chiklis. Throw in some of the characters played by Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Statham and Ving Rhames, and you can make a case that, slowly, balding actors are being offered more chances to save the world rather than try to rule it – and even get the girl in the process.

There’s nothing wrong with bald men playing villains, of course, and some of the most memorable screen moments are due to the indelible impressions created by evil characters. But the real world is filled with handsome, successful, tough men without full heads of hair, and it’s time they were more fully represented on the screen.